Keep Church Weird
I was sitting in my seat on board a flight to Seattle waiting to take off when a tall, tattooed woman took the seat next to me. She looked like a punk rocker from Seattle, and I wouldn’t have been very surprised had she turned out to be just that. It was only after we struck up a conversation that I discovered just how interesting Nadia Bolz-Weber really is. She seemed to defy all the stereotypes of a religious leader; she is a tall woman with short spiked hair, heavily tattooed, and foul mouthed. She is someone you would expect to be part of a counter-culture group rather than a Lutheran pastor.
Not only is she a minister, but shortly after I met her she became a bestselling author on the New York Times list, she was actually on a tour to promote her new book, Pastrix. Halfway through the flight I was struck by her passion for what she is doing; her approach to religion, and told her that I would love to do go to Denver and do a story on her and her church. She was hesitant, letting me know that her church is sacred to her and she did not want to make any members of her congregation feel uncomfortable by having me there photographing. I left it alone and thought to myself that if I was still interested in the story a week later I would email her and see if I could convince her. Interestingly enough, about a week later, she contacted me. She told me that the Washington Post wanted to do a story on her and asked if I would be interested in taking the photos. I said I would love to, but most likely would not be able to because the Washington Post would probably use a staffer or someone local to Nadia. She mentions my name and the editor knew my work and said they would commission me to do the photo shoot. The story went on to become one of the Washington Post’s top stories of 2013.
It’s interesting how sometimes the story finds you. Despite being shot down initially, I still somehow managed to find myself exactly where I wanted to be. You never know who you’re going to sit next to. It pays to follow your instincts and have conversations with people, and pursue stories you find interesting.